“Two factors, however, can slow or even reverse the declines that have begun,” the IHME team said.
Another key factor, according to the IHME team, is “increased behaviors that favor Covid-19 transmission.”
CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said Sunday that declining numbers were good news. “But I’m also very worried about these variants, because we have seen in other countries what happens when there is explosive spread of these more contagious variants,” Wen said on CNN’s “Inside Politics.”
“I think it’s really critical for us to ramp up vaccinations as much as we can, and in the meantime, do our best to continue with masking, physical distancing — these other measures that we know to be really important in controlling the spread of infection.”
In addition to the B.1.1.7 variant, the CDC said Sunday 17 cases of the B.1.351 Covid strain initially seen in South Africa have been found across seven states and in Washington, DC. There are also two cases of the P.1 strain first linked to Brazil — one in Minnesota and one in Oklahoma — it said.
The agency said the data did not represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US but just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples.
Debate continues over school reopenings
Walensky acknowledged “many” counties remain in a red zone. Schools in red zones should pursue a hybrid model if they’re an elementary school, she said, while middle and high schools either continue virtual learning or a hybrid model if they’re able to adhere to strict physical distancing.
Meantime, Dr. Wen said she found the CDC’s guidance both “good and problematic.”
She liked that the guidelines specifically defined levels of transmission for certain mitigation measures to go into place. But she took issue with other aspects, including the fact vaccinations are not listed as a “key” strategy for reopening schools. She didn’t understand why the subject was up for debate.
“If we want students to be in school for in-person learning, the least that we can do is to protect the health and well-being of our teachers,” Wen said, “especially as in so may parts of the country, teachers are already being made to go back to school in poorly-ventilated, cramped areas with many students who may not always be masking and practicing physical distancing.”
Walensky noted Sunday the guidance from the CDC’s vaccine advisory committee puts teachers in the Phase 1B category for vaccinations.
“I’m a strong advocate of teachers receiving their vaccinations,” she said, “but we don’t believe it’s a prerequisite for schools to reopen.”
‘One step closer to winning the war’
Despite lingering concerns, officials are hopeful the continued ramping up of vaccinations is beginning to shift the pandemic’s course in a positive direction.
The IHME expects 145 million adults to be vaccinated by June 1, it said in a statement, which would prevent 114,000 deaths.
“Our vaccine supply is going up, the positivity rate is going down and we’re getting one step closer to winning the war against COVID each day,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Saturday, referring to New York’s vaccinations.
By Sunday, the state had administered 89% of the first dose vaccines it had received from the federal government and 83% of first and second doses, the governor’s office said.
In California, officials announced millions of people will be added to the vaccination priority list, including residents “at high risk with developmental and other disabilities” and residents with serious underlying health conditions. The plan, which will begin in mid-March, broadens the ages of eligible individuals from 65 and older to ages 16 through 64 who are in those categories.
A new challenge over the weekend
Some parts of the US this weekend are facing another challenge that’s slowing down vaccinations: winter weather.
Federal officials expect Covid-19 vaccine shipments to Texas will be delayed this week because of a powerful winter storm, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief W. Nim Kidd said.
“Our vaccines that are set to arrive on Sunday, Monday will probably not arrive until Wednesday, Thursday,” Kidd said Saturday, “so we will see delays in vaccine coming into the state.”
Some local outdoor vaccination facilities also shut down ahead of the storm, Kidd added, though indoor vaccination administration will continue “as long as it is still safe to drive there.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency Sunday ahead of anticipated winter weather. The state of emergency will include 28 counties, according to a press release from Ivey’s office.
“If weather permits and roadways remain safe, Alabamians who have plans to receive their Covid-19 vaccine should still do so,” the press release said.
Vaccine providers in the state had requested about 170,000 doses this week, but the state was only allocated about 92,000, the department said in a news release. The difference was likely because last month some providers had used vaccines doses as initial doses when they were intended to be second doses.
That unfortunately means a portion of this week’s available first doses will instead need to be used to complete the two-dose regimen for those individuals.
CNN’s Michael Nedelman, Lauren Mascarenhas, Elizabeth Cohen, Melissa Alonso Rebekah Riess, Hollie Silverman, Stephanie Becker, Cheri Mossburg, Kristina Sgueglia and Evan Simko-Bednarski contributed to this report.